Places in Allen County, Indiana

Great Black Swamp


Stretched roughly from Fort Wayne, Indiana in the west, to Sandusky, Ohio on the east, and from the Maumee River valley south to near Findlay, Ohio and North Star, Ohio. Near its southern edge at the southwestern corner of present-day Auglaize County, the swamp was so impervious to travel that wheeled transportation was impossible during most of the year, and local residents thought the rigors of travel to be unsuitable for anyone except adult men. Read the rest of the article on Great Black Swamp on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

A massive quagmire once seeped across the landscape of northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, where towering oaks and sycamores loomed above murky pools of tannin-stained water—tangled, disorienting, dark. Fifteen hundred square miles of mud and mosquitos from Fort Wayne to Findlay to Toledo. “An absolute terrifying wilderness,” according to a local historian, one that swallowed horses and whole wagons. ... It was the Toledo War of 1835—a quick and bloodless boundary dispute between Ohio and Michigan—that eventually led to the swamp’s demise. On their way to a battle that never happened, the Ohio militia was waylaid by the mire, and the governor took note. The state poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into fixing the Maumee and Western Reserve Road, proving that with enough money, manpower, and ditches, the swamp could be tamed. In 1859, the state passed its first “Ditch Law,” and the people of Northwest Ohio got to work on bleeding the Great Black Swamp dry. Copied from The Death and Life of the Great Black Swamp Draining Ohio’s Great Black Swamp was a feat of human effort and engineering. Restoring it will be even harder. By Ashley Stimpson, published May 27, 2022 on Belt

February 23, 2023 post by the The History Center on Facebook:

Traveling around Allen County and Northeastern Indiana in the early 19th century was difficult. One of the major reasons was that our portion of the state was at the western edge of the Great Black Swamp, which made roads virtually impassable. One of the solutions was the construction of plank roads. In 1847, the Fort Wayne and Lima Plank Road Company, headed by Samuel Hanna, developed Lima Road into the first plank road in northern Indiana. A plank road is constructed of a series of wooden planks laid next to each other, providing a surface over which wagons could travel in all weather conditions. When it was completed, the Lima Plank Road reached Sturgis, Michigan, a distance of 60 miles. The planks for the road were three inches thick and eight feet long. These pieces of oak are from a plank on the original Lima Plank Road, which went from Fort Wayne to Lima, now Howe, Indiana in LaGrange County. The oak plank was excavated north of LaOtto during road construction. #sociallyhistory

The wetland in the 1820 map of Indiana shown below shows the Great Black Swamp where Fort Wayne and now Allen County are located.

July 14, 2023 post by the Hoosier Environmental Council on Facebook:

Indiana's environment is profoundly influenced by industrial agriculture. Indiana lost 73% of its original forests and wetlands from 1820 to 2001 to development and agriculture. Industrial #agriculture is the driver.

🐄 Industrial agriculture refers to this intensive system of #farming that grows massive amounts of cash crops, also known as monocultures, and confines #livestock animals in crowded conditions. Read more about this issue in our Ag E-news at:

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The swamp is a part of the current St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative. In 1803 when Ohio became a state, the Maumee Valley area was virtually untouched. It was known only to local Native Americans, and a few trappers and explorers. Development of this corner of Northwest Ohio was delayed nearly 100 years behind other parts of the state due to the Great Black Swamp. Read the rest of the article on The Great Black Swamp originally on now on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

The Besancon Historical Society newsletter the Chronicles mentions the swamp in some of their periodicals such as Issue 1 November 1994 and Issue 38 Summer 2008. Most of the swamp was in Northwest Ohio as shown in a map in History of the Great Black Swamp by Kaycee Hallett published April 14, 2011 on The Black Swamp Journal. Northwest Ohio has several places named for the swamp such as the Black Swamp Preserve in Bowling Green, Ohio and Black Swamp Conservancy in Perrysburg Ohio.

The Wabash and Erie Canal was built in the mid to late 1800s to drain and travel thru the swamp from Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie thru Fort Wayne southwest to the Wabash River enabling many canal towns to grow along the way. Great Black Swamp: Drained centuries ago, DNR and Ohio organizations look to bring some of it back published October 28, 2019 on

Living in the former Great Black Swamp applies to mundane things like maintaining lawns and gardens shown when the former horticulture educator with the Purdue Cooperative Extension service writes an article Rolling lawn can backfire due to local clay subsoil by Ricky Kemery published April 26, 2022 in The Journal Gazette newspaper. Question: What can you tell me about rolling the lawn? Some people I know say it is bad, and others say they do it every year. Answer: Obsessively and continuously rolling the lawn with a heavy lawn roller on wet heavy clay soils will result in a compacted lawn that will be less healthy as a result. We have a large percentage of clay in soils in our area. This is because our soils are formed from limestone/shale bedrock. Our area was also once a part of a huge lake that covered our area at the time of the glaciers. Many parts of northern Indiana were once poorly drained swamps that were eventually drained for farming use.

Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change, If We Only Let Them Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we’ve drained much of this land. Can we learn to love our swamps? has a long section about the draining of the Great Black Swamp from a July 13, 2022 post on True Fort Wayne Indiana History on Facebook.

What Was The Great Black Swamp? Premiered May 29, 2021 by Frontier Trading Company on YouTube

The Great Black Swamp was once a massive network of wild swamps, forests, and wetlands on the Northwestern Ohio frontier. The swamp delayed white settlement for decades, bringing death and ruin to thousands of Native Americans and white settlers alike.  

Settlement of the Great Black Swamp posted Jan 17, 2013 by Michael E. BrooksA brief lecture on the settlement of the Great Black Swamp. on YouTube

Draining America February 5, 2024 Abraham Parrish on The Library of Congress blog.

Pivoting to the Midwest, the map below of Ohio and Indiana from 1819 depicts many of the river systems in which large wetlands were situated.  The Great Black Swamp was a large wetland in a small part of northeast Indiana and a significant part of northwest Ohio, draining through the Maumee River into Lake Erie.  The Grand Kankakee Marsh in Indiana and Illinois, situated on the map along the Kankakee River just South of Lake Michigan, was once one of the largest wetlands in the United States.

1819 map of the midwest region showing the early states and counties of Ohio and Indiana and major hydrological features.
Tanner, Henry Schenck, Ohio and Indiana, 1819, Geography and Map Division.

Long, long time ago a huge swamp called the Great Black Swamp stretched from around the Port Clinton (Ohio) area to...

Posted by Wabash County Historian on Thursday, May 2, 2024

Thursday, May 2, 2024 post by the Wabash County Historian on Facebook:

Long, long time ago a huge swamp called the Great Black Swamp stretched from around the Port Clinton (Ohio) area to Fort Wayne (Indiana). The swamp was an impediment to settlement in that part of Ohio and northeastern Indiana. According to early surveyors of Wabash County there were a number of tracts that were quite low which they called “swamp lands”. In Chester Township they were called by locals the “Bear Swamp.” Today’s picture shows an area that still remains of the “Bear Swamp.” A If you check the 1875 Historical Atlas of Wabash County you can see the swampy areas. For the most part the swamps have been drained, beginning in the middle of the 19th Century, and the area used as farmland. But, occasionally you can see the small remnants of them. You may have driven past this swampy area located on the Laketon road about one mile north of Ind. 16.

The swampy, marshy land often led to difficulties for early settlers who were caught away from home at night. On many a night a thick blanket of fog would obscure the swampy areas. Also, around the swampy areas tall grass called “Sage Grass” grew up to ten feet tall obscuring trails and marshes. Cows were often let out to graze during the day and most of the time they found there way home but occasionally they became disoriented in the tall grass. Those sent out to look for them often became lost and spent hours finding their way home. Also the swamp lands were home to a variety of dangerous animals including wolves. Some settlers who had a family member lost in such a manner would beat on a barrel until they returned. One night a young girl named Anna M. Geik, became lost while hunting cows and spent the entire night up a tree that she was able to find. She spent the dreary night among its branches, with what seemed like ten thousand wolves howling and raving under her. They gnawed the bark from the tree, close to the ground, and tore up the earth for some distance all around it. The fright and exposure of the frosty night proved too great a shock for her constitution, and she died a few weeks afterward.”

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